Orban gives Pope a loaded gift during visit to Hungary

Pope Francis urged Hungarians to be more “open” and “considered” during an open-air mass in Budapest after meeting the country’s hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday.

Orban, a self-styled defender of Christian values, has rolled back civil liberties, ranging from migrant and LGBTQ+ rights to media freedom, and worked to erode judicial and academic independence in Hungary.

The Pope’s remarks appeared to criticize some of these policies, stressing the need for tolerance.

“This is what I wish for you: that the cross be your bridge between the past and the future. Religious sentiment has been the lifeblood of this nation, so attached to its roots. Yet the cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone,” Francis said during his address while presiding over the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress.

“My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate,” he added.

Orban’s personal gift to the Pope, however, appeared to underline his nationalist and anti-immigrant stance: a copy of a 13th century letter from Hungarian King Bela IV to Pope Innocent IV. The letter asked the then-Pope for help in resisting the Mongol invasion of Hungary and Europe.

Balazs Orban, Deputy Minister for the Prime Minister’s Office, described the gift on his Facebook page, saying, “there are many similarities between the situation at that time and today…we should learn from history.”

The Hungarian leader met the Pope privately in Budapest on Sunday, along with Vatican officials and Hungarian President Janos Ader. They discussed the protection of the environment, promotion of families and the role of the Catholic Church in Hungary, according to the Vatican.

When he landed in the Hungarian capital earlier that day, Francis said he was glad papal trips had “restarted” and that he would bring “the word and greetings to many people.”

This is the Pope’s 34th international trip and the first since he had a surgery for colon diverticulitis in July.

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